Report sewage spills, LRC urges after court order

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The Legal Resources Centre in Makhanda has urged residents to report sewerage spills to the municipality during the next few weeks. This follows a court order that requires Makana Municipality to urgently attend to ongoing sewerage spills, but also to submit a report to the court within 30 days, setting out all the active sewerage spills in Makhanda, together with a budget and a plan to fix them.

Makana Municipality has less than two weeks to attend to ongoing sewage leaks affecting the homes of 10 Makhanda residents, according to an order handed down in the Grahamstown High Court on 2 June.

The residents’ homes, and the sewage spills, are in various parts of Makhanda, including Hooggenoeg, Sunnyside, Phumlani and Fingo Village. The court papers in this case reveal the endless efforts of the 10 residents to try and compel the municipality and the national and provincial government to take action and fix the sanitation system.

Many of the complaints go as far back as 2014, and numerous promises by officials to address the issue have come to nothing.

In the court papers, the residents argue that the continuous failure to fix and maintain the sanitation system and the conditions that they have been forced to endure, violates their constitutional rights to dignity, equality, and the right to a safe and healthy environment that does not pose a risk to their health.

In a media release, the LRC said since 2010, sanitation systems in the town had gradually deteriorated.

“Inadequate maintenance of these systems, coupled with budget constraints as a result of the mismanagement of municipal funds has resulted in constant sewerage spills in and around the homes of residents,” the LRC said. “Blocked drains are responsible for many of the spills, while crumbling sewerage pipes burst often, resulting in large spills of raw sewerage that flood into homes.”

The impact on residents had been devastating, the LRC said.

“Some residents are unable to use certain rooms in their homes as they are flooded by sewerage, while others have suffered structural damage to their properties.

“Many are unable to use their toilets for fear of flooding their homes. Children are often exposed to raw sewerage when walking to and from school, leaving them vulnerable to diseases.”

The order was obtained by agreement between the parties after the municipality had failed to file answering papers.

The municipality’s representatives had only engaged with the LRC about a possible order by agreement late on Monday (1 June 2020), the LRC said. The original application was served on the municipality on 5 December.

Judge Bloem ordered the municipality to, within 15 days of the date of the order, take all the necessary steps to contain the sewerage spills at the sites of the 10 residents.

They have also been ordered to submit a report to the court within 30 days setting out all the active sewerage spills in Makhanda, together with a budget and the plan to fix the spills. The spills in the rest of the town must then be fixed within 60 days after the report was filed.

Part B of the application was postponed to allow the municipality to decide whether they want to oppose the sought relief.

“Part B of the application is aimed at compelling the municipality and the national and provincial government to generate a plan, together with a budget, for the upgrading of the waste water treatment works,” the LRC said. “The plan will also need to address the upgrading and replacement of the infrastructure that causes the numerous sewerage spills, such as the out-dated pipes.”

The municipality has until 23 June 2020 to file answering papers if they wish to oppose this relief.

“This order is a victory for the individual applicants as well as the broader Makhanda Community,” said the LRC.

LRC Attorney Cecile van Schalkwyk urged residents to report sewage spills during the next few weeks.

‘It is really important that people report their spills to the municipality during this time so that we can ensure all those spills are captured in the report,” Van Schalkwyk said.

“We therefore want to encourage people to report their spills to the municipality, log it with Mobisam if they are able to do so, and report it to our office at 072 042 5661 or at valencia@lrc.org.za.”

Makana Mayor Mzukisi Mpahlwa said the Municipality respected the court judgment.

“As a law-abiding corporate citizen, the municipality respects the judgment,” Mpahlwa said. “We will do our best to comply with the order of the judge, as we are doing with the Eskom judgment and the landfill site judgment.”

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